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10 Things to Change about College Football: Transfer Rules and 6th Years of Eligibility

Clearer transfer rules might help that guy wearing #2.
Clearer transfer rules might help that guy wearing #2.

This week I continue my 10 part piece on things I would like to see changed in college football. For reference, here are the previous articles:


The Bowl System

Conference Affiliation of Officials

Overtime Rules

Early Signing Period

Instant Replay

Preseason Polls


For this installment, I am going to tackle transfer rules and 6th years of eligibility.



The NCAA mandates that a student athlete must sit out one full academic year upon transfer unless the student qualifies for an exemption. Reasons for exemptions typically include discontinued academic programs, health or military service. The transferring student must also be granted a release from the previous institution to the new institution.

6th Years of Eligibility:

The NCAA uses a rule termed the "Five Year Rule" to govern eligibility of student athletes. This rule states:

"A student-athlete shall complete his or her seasons of participation within five calendar years from the beginning of the semester or quarter in which the student-athlete first registered for a minimum full-time program of studies in a collegiate institution..."

A student athlete can apply for a waiver to the Five Year Rule, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote from the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement. The rule states:

"This waiver may be granted, based upon objective evidence, for reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution, which deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate for more than one season in his/her sport within the five-year period."

For reference, things that are defined as "beyond the control of the student-athlete or institution" include medical reasons (for either the student or an immediate family member), natural disasters or extreme financial difficulty. Red shirt years are considered a "circumstance within control."


This particular issue isn't specific to college football, but pertains to all NCAA sports. While the two items may appear to be unrelated, I think that they have both been interpreted inconsistently by the NCAA recently. You don't have to look much further than the Notre Dame men's basketball team with Scott Martin being granted a 6th year (who also transferred in) while Tim Abromaitis being denied his.

First, the transfer rules are too complex for NCAA sports (as are most rules-the D-I rule book is over 400 pages). Once upon a time, the Big Ten disallowed scholarships to players who transferred within the conference (Jeff George being a great example.) While I wouldn't take it to that extreme, I do think that institutions should be able to restrict athletes transferring within their conference. Beyond that, there should be no limits on where a student-athlete can go. The fact that a head coach or university can block a student-athlete's transfer to other institutions as they see fit should not be allowed by the rules.

As far as gaining a 6th year waiver, I think the following changes need to be made. First, either both redshirts and transfer years count against the "Five Year Rule" or they don't. To me, they are very similar and should be treated as such. Personally, I think both should count against the five year limit. Second, if a student-athlete misses more than two-thirds of a season due to injury, that season should not count against their four years of eligibility. It really isn't that difficult to quantify the number of games an athlete played in. By making those two simple changes, the 6th year will become what is should be-a rare exception to the rules that will be implemented on a fair and consistent basis.

Related Reading:

NCAA Eligibility Rules

NCAA D-I Manual